Directed by Blitz Bazawule
Written by Marcus Gardley ( based on the musical of Marsha Norman and the novel of Alice Walker)
Starring: Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P Harrison, Danielle Brooks, Coleman Domingo


In Georgia, in the early 1900s, Cecile (Fantasia Barrino) is coping with a hard life. An abusive husband (that’s replaced an abusive father), a missing sister, and haunted by the memory of two babies that she had to give up in her teens, Cecile struggles from day to day. Yet even in these harsh conditions she’s able to find friends and community, and slowly creates a life for herself. The second adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, this differentiates itself from its 1985 forerunner by virtue of being a musical.

The Color Purple has a difficult time breaking out of the shadow of its dramatic predecessor. Its mix of song and dance sits oddly with the harrowing drama at its core. Which is not to say musicals can’t tackle serious dramatic issues, Les Misérables and Sweeney Todd spring to mind. However it certainly plays against genre expectations, and while solidly produced, it isn’t strong enough in numbers or staging to pull it off.

Its song choice does go some way to mitigating that. Here, each piece is grounded in the history of black music. Highlighting such genres as Gospel, blues, chain gang songs – all are born from a history of oppression. These express aspects of joy, sorrow, resistance, and celebration. Moreover it’s something that the film proudly showcases.

The performances are also strong. Fantasia Barrino gives a paired back and nervously contained performance in line with the brutalized central character. Meanwhile, Taraji P Harrison (Shug) and Danielle Brooks (Sofia), have the freedom to play large. They all have their show stopping numbers, and provide great vocals.

However, the film is a little uneven in this regard, packing most of its numbers in the first half. As a result the third act is a little dry. The later numbers also suffer from similar staging to earlier acts, further robbing them of effectiveness.

At the end of the day, musicals can be one of the most subjective genres of film. Either it connects emotionally , or it doesn’t, and this one doesn’t. The Color Purple is a slick and solid production, but it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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